//Do you perform Information Architecture or a Data Architecture?

Do you perform Information Architecture or a Data Architecture?

So, full disclosure, I care about Wikipedia.  Call me dumb, I know.  Wikipedia has been described, alternatively, as the best platform ever invented for fostering useless arguments among ignorant people /and/ the most successful encyclopedia effort of all time.  The truth, as always, lies between these extremes.

Well, I’m part of a small team that is working to clean up the Wikipedia pages dealing with Enterprise Architecture.  One thing that we noted recently is the fact that there are two pages, similar, both rather poor, that cover essentially the same topic.

One page is called “Information Architecture” and the other is called “Data Architecture.”

We don’t believe that there should be two distinct pages.  Wikipedia has a feature called “redirect” that allows the name of one page to point to another.  So it’s possible to bring these together.  However, the debate is now open… which one?  Should the field be called “Information architecture” or “Data architecture”?

(Note, for a while, User Experience Designers used the term Information Architect.  That seems to have faded and been replaced with User Experience Designer.  I’d love to hear from folks in the UxD business about whether they feel ownership or kinship to the term “information architect”)

Or, third option, we are wrong… and there should be two distinct pages because these are two distinct concepts.

RESULTS

I asked for responses to a quick survey on the questions above.  I’d like to share the responses.

There were 55 responses between Nov 21st and Dec 2nd, 2014.  The responses broken down to be approximately equal: 1/3rd from North America, 1/3rd from Europe, and 1/3rd from Australia and New Zealand.

In the first question, I asked if there should be one article or two.  The answer from the community is: a dead even split.

Wikipedia-poll-q1

In the second question, I asked if we were to go with one article, what term should win out.  Information Architecture, Data Architecture or It doesn’t matter.  As an out, I gave folks the ability to answer this one with: leave two terms.

For the folks who want to combine to one term, Information Architecture beats Data Architecture hands down (34.5% vs 10%).

But half of you (49%) said: No.  Leave two terms.  They are different!

Wikipedia-poll-q2

Analysis and Decisions

With these results, I’m inclined to leave two pages and just work out the distinctions so that there is clarity.  That would be in keeping with the career path already laid out by DAMA and would prevent a conflict.  The comments provide additional support for this notion and even provide insight into how to divide these two areas up.

Note that I won’t be able to say that the terms are effectively interchangeable.  Rather that each one addresses a specific set of concerns for a particular stakeholder community.

The one thing that I cannot answer: can a single individual rotate between two roles: an information architect and a data architect, wearing the appropriate “hat” for their stakeholders, with minimal additional training required?  I’m inclined to say “yes”.

By |2016-07-10T00:41:37+00:00November 21st, 2014|Enterprise Architecture|11 Comments

About the Author:

President of Vanguard EA, an Enterprise Architecture consulting firm in Seattle focused on the Pacific coast of the US. Nick has over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

11 Comments

  1. Jan van Til November 23, 2014 at 1:34 am - Reply

    Can one perform architecture?

    What does one choose as vanishing point? Humans or Tech?

  2. JD Beckingham November 23, 2014 at 9:06 am - Reply

    I use Information on the business architecture side, Data on the IT architecture side, and User Experience then talking about a system as a whole. (Must the whole nine yards: UE = UI plus functionality and performance)

  3. Ric Hayman November 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    I voted for keeping them separate; but they are closely related/somewhat overlapping … key difference is in the perspective. Information architecture provides rationale and context (the business view); data architecture deals more with the disposition (technical view); data architecture is driven/constrained/informed by information architecture.

  4. Ian Glossop November 26, 2014 at 8:12 am - Reply

    Russel Ackoff did us no favour in promoting the Data-information-Knowledge-Wisdom model (of epistemology).

    And the entire IT industry made matters very much worse by thoroughly conflating and confusing "Information" with "Data".

    In fact we need more distinctions, not fewer.

    See for example, Floridi in "The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information".

    A start would be to distinguish between organisational information systems – which have _nothing_ to do with IT or software but are all about people and personal relationships  – and Information Technology systems – which are all about software and data.

  5. Ian Glossop November 26, 2014 at 8:15 am - Reply

    One thing about wikipedia is that it is hypertext, not paper. The two terms are in common usage and therefore deserve their own separate pages – even if in fact they refer to the same concept (which in my view they do not). There is nothing stopping each page extensively cross-referring to the other.

    The effort may well serve to clarify the concepts of "information" and "Data".

  6. Ian Glossop November 26, 2014 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Russel Ackoff did us no favour in promoting the Data-information-Knowledge-Wisdom model (of epistemology).

    And the entire IT industry made matters very much worse by thoroughly conflating and confusing "Information" with "Data".

    In fact we need more distinctions, not fewer.

    See for example, Floridi in "The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information".

    A start would be to distinguish between organisational information systems – which have _nothing_ to do with IT or software but are all about people and personal relationships  – and Information Technology systems – which are all about software and data.

  7. Ian Glossop November 26, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Wikipedia already reflects the fact that among the educated "Data" and "Information" are distinguished: (see section with subtitle "Data,Information, Knowledge"

    en.wikipedia.org/…/DIKW_Pyramid

    Logically, if Data and Information are different things, they have different architectures.

  8. Philip Verlinden December 2, 2014 at 12:04 am - Reply

    I would follow JD Beckingham. Data is the raw set of just "data" from the IT perspective. Business will make the data actionable and then it becomes "information"

  9. Andrew Hinton December 15, 2014 at 7:46 am - Reply

    There are effectively two separate communities of practice, each with fairly long traditions, using the phrase "information architecture" in different ways — although there is some overlap, at least on paper.

    I do not think the pages should be merged, but some more sophisticated disambiguation ought to happen at some point, such as "Information Architecture (Data)" vs "Information Architecture (Experience Design)"  … not that these are the best distinguishing modifiers. (Of course, determining those modifiers is semantic can of worms as well…) Richard Saul Wurman coined the phrase Information Architecture in the 1970s as a way to talk about human-facing systems that convey complexity with clarity — much more related to design and built-environment architecture than information-systems management. Later, after the Web arrived, the phrase was used in a related way for the practice of using library-science concepts and methods for organizing web environments. In the last 10 years these ideas have merged even more, and there's a thriving community of practice and emerging discipline, with courses at major universities, books, journals, etc. So it needs to be "a thing" on wikipedia, but the devil is in the details of how to label all these at once.

  10. Andrew Hinton December 15, 2014 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Regarding the word "information" — I'd caution that the DIKW pyramid is only one perspective, and is not the only valid or useful model. Other work from folks in fields like cognitive science (e.g. James J. Gibson) and information science (e.g. Marcia Bates) have varied, valid, and rigorously researched models and perspectives on what information is — and they are all valuable in their own way, depending on the work being done. Information is much like the word 'architecture' — it's not super easy to pin down.

  11. Ayaz Ahmad December 20, 2014 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    I believe Data Architecture is subset of Information Architecture. When data is combined/viewed with application set it becomes Information hence equation will be as below:

    Information Architecture = Data Architecture + Application Architecture

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